The dust has barely settled on the first epic season of action on F1 2021, and before you know it, it’s time to get back into the fray! One of the first things I wanted to do was debut a new livery for season two – I sneakily debuted the revised colour scheme for the season one finale at Abu Dhabi, by switching from yellow to gold, and for season two the overall design was changed.
It’s a nicer look to me.
A new ‘outfit’ was not the only change. The team received a significant amount of prize money from sponsors, and I used this to upgrade several facilities. A number of parts on the car (the MKR02, thank you very much) were upgraded as well. I kept Pedro Piquet as my teammate for another season. I hoped that we could begin to make serious progress as a team.
The first test of the projects to update the team would be Bahrain.
Last time out I’d been close to victory on my debut, only for a puncture to leave me without even a single point. Could I make amends this time? Well, the first thing that struck me in practice (in FP1 I put in 24/25 laps) was that the car felt… better. It handled better, even through corners that had unglued me before. Turn 10, such a formidable and sharp left-hander, did not hold the same fear. I felt more confident in where and when to brake and turn. Maybe it’s also a case of muscle memory and a bit of experience. At any rate, the car felt good, even with a high fuel load and hard tyres. Pace was a different matter under those conditions, but I’d expected that. Some experiences on slightly less fuel and on medium and soft tyres produced some good results as well. I felt like the race would be good.
Qualifying certainly proved good. Unexpectedly good. I topped the timesheets in each session, though I used soft tyres in Q3, which put me on an opposite strategy to what I wanted. That said, virtually everyone else did the same thing. Not only did I top the timesheets, but the gap to second place was anywhere from 0.6 seconds to 0.9 seconds, depending on the session. In F1, that’s a huge margin. For the start of the race I was joined on the front row by the McLaren of Norris and had Hamilton’s Mercedes right behind me. I actually made a decent start, peeling away from Norris, though Hamilton started to bear down upon me. I covered him off into turn 1, and held the racing line, but got clipped by Norris. Norris had a wobble but I was able to keep ahead, and Hamilton got put off enough for Ricciardo in the second McLaren to nip into second place. For a few laps I struggled to pull out a gap but Ricciardo wasn’t catching me, and then slowly but surely, I built up a lead to around six seconds by lap 12. I ditched the soft tyres quite early in favour of mediums, as part of a two-stop strategy, and I was grateful for it; in Bahrain’s desert heat the softs just did not last.
Curiously, Ricciardo went around for another lap, with Hamilton right on his heels. I began to set some fast sector times and by the time the pair had pitted, the gap had grown to around 10 seconds. From there, it only grew. As the fuel load lightened and the car became more responsive, I pulled away at a steady rate. In fact, by the time of my second scheduled stop I was able to emerge still in the lead, albeit by only two seconds from Ricciardo. Once he and Hamilton had stopped again I was back to a commanding position, and with a few laps to go I decided to ditch the mediums for a set of lightly-used softs. I wound up setting a fastest lap of the race that was ridiculously quick, and took the chequered flag to win the opening round of the 2022 season! This also meant that for the first time in my career I led the World Championship standings.
Could I keep this going? Round two would be a new venue for me in my career – China.